The music of Alanis Morissette, for me, represents a flood of memories wrapped in a nostalgic little pill. She was the definitive soundtrack of my college years, and as such, I was extremely excited to see the Broadway touring version of “Jagged Little Pill” at the National Theatre. The show did not disappoint. The cast, the production values, and of course the music all lived up to the hype preceding this year’s DC premiere of the highly acclaimed musical. It was an unforgettable event that left all who attended singing the songs that made Morissette an ambassador for the 90s.
…not to be missed. Understanding exactly how to do theatre for people who love theatre and also for those who may be somewhat new to it, the cast and crew of this production exuberantly leave it all on the stage.
The story, with book by award-winning screenplay writer Diablo Cody and music by Morissette and Glen Ballard, follows the Healy family over the span of one year—Christmas to Christmas. A suburban Connecticut family, the Healys are seemingly defined by their annual holiday card, which presents a cheery, airbrushed version of the goings on in the lives of the various members of the Healy clan. As such holiday cards are apt to do, this one paints the perfect family portrait. That, however, is where all the “perfect” ends and real life intervenes.
“Jagged Little Pill” is very much about looking beyond the glossy veneer of that family photo into the darkness and chaos that threaten to destroy the tenuous ties that bind. Mary Jane Healy emerges as the central character around whom her family orbits and for whom those same family members come to hold a seething resentment. She is the quintessential PTA-running, pumpkin-spice soymilk-latte-sipping, 90-minutes-on-the-treadmill-treading, soccer mom. As her disgruntled husband constantly reminds, she is the ultimate picture of perfection. Or is she? Problem is, Mary Jane has a bit of a prescription drug habit. Her son Nick, newly accepted into Harvard, hides a few demons of his own. Their adopted daughter Frankie is constantly fighting against what she perceives as the tokenism that defines her place in the family. And Mary Jane’s husband Steve ostensibly checked out long ago. The Healy’s dysfunction takes things to an extreme—but at the same time, their trials also seem somewhat universal. What family doesn’t put on those filters to hide some otherwise painful flaws?
The performances in this production transcends good and verges on spectacular because of two key components: the actors and the music of Morissette. Bringing these elements together seamlessly and in a riotously entertaining way certainly would seem to be no easy feat, but director Diane Paulus pulls it off and what’s more, she makes it look effortless. Heidi Blickenstaff as Mary Jane Healy leads an incredibly talented cast of actors. Blickenstaff’s vocal range is impressive to say the least. She blows the haunting ballad-esque “Uninvited” out of the water. As the perfect-not-perfect matriarch, Blickenstaff is at once someone you want to dislike but whom you also want to invite over for coffee (yes, even of the pumpkin-spice soymilk variety) and make her your bestie. Without question, she conquers that stage. Lauren Chanel as Frankie, the Healy’s adopted daughter, does a nice job of holding her own in counterpoint to her at times larger-than-life mother. Chanel’s voice provides the perfect mix of angry teenage angst and a sort of hopeful desperation—a lot like the artist around whose music this show is based. Chris Hoch as the put-upon Steve Healy ultimately emerges as the highly likable, stalwart center, with a few amusing quirks and kinks of his own—interpret that how you will. Dillon Klena rounds out the Healy family as Nick. He does a terrific job vacillating between the family golden boy and just a confused kid on the verge of self-destructing.
Emerging as the talent to watch here is Jade McLeod as Jo. Frankie’s best friend and potential love interest, McLeod’s Jo is the perfect embodiment of Morissette’s overall vision and vibe as far as I’m concerned. Their rendition of the iconic “You Oughta Know” brought the house down. Their acting chops were on par with their phenomenal vocal abilities. Kudos to McLeod.
As you’d imagine, the production values of the performance as staged by the National Theatre are amazing. Set design by Riccardo Hernández is not only a kinetic visual spectacle but works exceedingly well in terms of bolstering the story being told. Justin Townsend’s lighting and Jonathan Deans’ sound design, particularly for a musical of this magnitude, do not disappoint. Emily Rebholz’s costumes lend both whimsy and a youthful intensity to the performance. Sid Larbi Cherkaoui’s choreography takes things to another level. It manages to deftly balance the emotional journey that Morissette’s music is bound to take audiences on with the frenetic pace of plot elements that are both timely and sobering. “Jagged Little Pill” touches on addiction and sexual assault among other seemingly hard-to-face realities of today’s world. The choreography knows when to be “in your face” and when to take a backseat to the more somber issues of the production.
“Jagged Little Pill” is not to be missed. Understanding exactly how to do theatre for people who love theatre and also for those who may be somewhat new to it, the cast and crew of this production exuberantly leave it all on the stage.
Running time: Two hours and 30 minutes including one intermission.
Advisory: Mature themes and language, some sexual content. *Trigger warning: discussions of sexual violence, depictions/discussions of addiction.
“Jagged Little Pill” runs through March 26, 2023 at the National Theatre, 1321 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC 20004. For more information or to purchase tickets, click here. Masks are strongly recommended but not required for all ticketholders.